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The Philosophical Basis of Trumpism?

To what extent can Trump's policy be said to be influenced by Carl Schmidt's philosophy?


Hamden, Connecticut: In the wake of the NATO and Helsinki summits, many on the liberal wing have personally renounced the behavior of US President Donald Trump. When he turns his back on America's traditional allies and ridicules the country's security services while embracing Vladimir Putin, it is obvious that he is in deep water. Or that someone else is pulling the strings. Or that he is mentally unstable. Or that he is completely Russia's man – a "traitor". Some or all of these claims may well be true. But there is a deeper and far more disturbing explanation for Trump's behavior: It stems from his own ideas, especially from his philosophical convictions regarding our world order. These beliefs will prove far more difficult to fight.

Of course, Trump is not a philosopher. Still, he instinctively becomes the voice of certain ideas, thanks to his ability to tell stories to the masses and through his deep receptivity to how the audience reacts to him purely emotionally. For each campaign he conducts, he is encouraged by a mass audience to refine his ideas to satisfy what they perceive as his emotional needs, which he next politicizes through social media.

It says its when Trump's advisers can describe the construction of the Mexico Wall as a "love" political project.

Schmitt's liberal criticism Pointing to a thinker for whom Trump is a speaker – and who can help us understand his thinking, especially his strongly criticized moral mischief against Russia – would have to be the German philosopher Carl Schmitt. Although Schmitt is notorious for his joining the Nazi party in 1933, it would be a fallacy to reject him solely for that reason. Among today's academics, on both the left and right, Schmitt is known for his sharp criticism of modern liberalism. At the heart of Schmitt's criticism is his distaste for liberalism's ambition to represent something universal. Liberals definitely put the rights of individuals at the heart of their political program and believe that those rights should, in principle, be extended to everyone. America is – as you say – an idea.

For Schmitt, this view is a recipe for disaster both at home and abroad. Domestic politics because the liberal understanding of the "people" does not exclude anyone and thus becomes unclear. Who are we if "we" can include everyone? Schmitt was of the opinion that this line of thinking makes liberal states vulnerable to being taken over by private interest groups inside and by foreigners – a thought Trump made himself the main point of his election campaign. Schmitt's criticism of liberal foreign policy is based on a similar analysis. As defenders of a non-exclusive, rights-based creed, liberals tend to meddle in politics to other countries where it does not match liberal values. And when liberals take part in international military conflicts, their worldview becomes a recipe for total and eternal war, since their allegiance to abstract values ​​makes opponents not just competitors but "absolute enemies". Unlike a "real enemy" that rivals can learn to live with, an absolute enemy must either be destroyed or transformed over time – for example, through the "nation building" that Trump so emphatically rejects.

Political identity on a geographical basis

Instead of normativity and universalism, Schmitt offers a political identity theory based on a principle Trump no doubt has deep sympathy for from his pre-political career: country. For Schmitt, a political community emerges when a people group recognizes that they share certain cultural features that they also think are worth defending with life as an effort. This cultural sovereignty foundation is ultimately rooted in the peculiar geography of which this population group lives – for example, a coastal inland or an outward coastal landscape. What is at stake here is the opposite view of the relationship between national identity and law. According to Schmitt, the "nomos" of society or its self-understanding that emerges from geography are the philosophical preconditions for its laws. For liberals, on the other hand, the nation is first and foremost defined by its legal obligations. Trump's presidency is a continuation of the political implications of the Schmittian view on domestic and foreign policy.

When Trump sided with Putin and sided with him and not with the US intelligence service, he lived out the logical consequences of Schmitt's thinking.

Schmitt's criticism of liberalism is most evident in the passion Trump and his supporters are forging ahead in their plans to build a wall along America's southern border. That's when Trump's advisers, like Stephen Miller, can describe the construction of the wall as a "love" political project – that is, a love for the American community, clearly defined on a territorial basis. More indirectly, in Brussels and Helsinki, Trump's Schmittian policy was expressed in his behavior toward America's traditional allies and opponents. Schmitt advocates a world order that makes Monroe doctrine a universal law: large nations project inviolable geographical zones – a Grossraum – and from these they can relate to one another with mutual respect. Trump is in favor of an international order in which normative pluralism, non-intervention and agreements apply.

From such an anti-liberal perspective, there is no reason to see Russia as an absolute enemy. And there is every reason to undermine international institutions and cut ties with America's traditional allies. To the anti-liberal today, the real enemies of world peace are the national states and institutions that try to create external constraints on sovereignty and who understand political communities in a normative rather than territorial or cultural sense. Conversely, real friends of peace are the nations strong enough to establish political homogeneity within their own borders and able to maintain a world order led by the most important independent actors. When Trump stood by Putin and took sides with him and not with the US intelligence service, he lived out the logical consequences of Schmitt's thinking. And these ideas will follow us long after Trump is out of the game.
Mark S. Weiner is a member of the Niskanen Center's advisory body. Fulbright Professorship in American Studies at Uppsala University in 2018–19. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.

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